These days, with instant feedback about films, it’s easy to get blinded by the sheer amount of data. The sheer amount of press reviewing or discussing Star Trek has made it virtually impossible to actually get a realistic appraisal of the film. Hard-core traditionalist Trekkers have been badmouthing the film ever since it was announced it wouldn’t include any of the standard casts. Early reviews varied from what seemed like screaming fanboy-ism favorably comparing this film with Dark Knight to firmly stating that this film will not only destroy the Star trek franchise forever, but that all films forever will be tarnished by its image.
This film got 95% on Rottentomatoes.com and gets the sort of praise normally reserved for foreign language, anti-American films at Cannes. Was it really that good? Was this film worth the insane amount of hype?
The answer is… well, yes and no.
The film is excellent. In addition to the now ubiquitous good effects, it has a great story, some really enjoyable humor, solid performances (with one big exception) and some outstanding action sequences. Across the board it delivered the goods when it comes to geeky goodness. It’s not difficult to outperform the rest of the Trek films, since almost all of them sucked horrifyingly. Wrath of Khan is the one universal exception to this rule, with the occasional exception of First Contact which was very good. This film is considerably better than all of its predecessors.
The story is surprisingly good for a Star Trek film. It’s even more surprising considering the fact that Abrams himself was never a fan of the series. He presents the beginning of the now famous story line with a certain reverence for the Kirk-Spock relationship. Oh sure, there are deviations all over the place from what traditionalists would refer to as the “canon.” These are neatly excused by the “altered timeline” explanation. Unfortunately the directors/producer felt it necessary to spell it out, rather than go for a more subtle approach. The cast literally explains why it’s perfectly ok if things are different. It felt a little awkward, but since this film was geared more to general audiences than prior installments, I understand its inclusion.
The acting was, for the most part, very good and the interplay between them all was excellent for a fresh start cast. For the three primary characters it was pretty much all gravy. Chris Pine was solid as Kirk. In this alternate history this version of the character makes sense and this guy is loaded with charisma and bravado… and with even a little more recklessness than Shatner’s Kirk. Karl Urban was just awesome as Bones, and did homage more than any of the other actors to the shows origins. They will need to tone him down a bit for sequels to keep it out of caricature category, but he was hysterical and sounded like he was channeling DeForrest Kelley. Spock was… perfect. Quinto captured the character exactly as I imagined a young Spock to be. Every nuance was exactly as it should have been. The interplay between Kirk and Spock was believable and what it should have been. I was pretty nervous about this casting decision, but it was spot on.
The youngish looking fellow playing Chekov, Anton Yelchin, was great and the almost unintelligible accent was toyed with for a chuckle or two. The Character of Sulu was missing one major piece… the trademark Takei voice. The actor, John Cho, was very capable but the casting director should have at least tried to get someone with a deeper voice. Simon Pegg was pretty much as I’d expected him to be: a funny guy with a Scottish accent. They even tossed him some slapstick gags… actually amusing ones. They also emphasized the intelligence and/or ability of all three of these more minor characters, as well as Uhura (more on her below). Each of them was given a scene showing how they are more than a cut above the average cadet; that they were on the enterprise for a reason.
Of course, there were a couple week spots.
Uhura’s character was depressingly shallow and limited. Sure, Nichelle Nichols was a sexpot in her prime, too, but she was a developed character, even if only peripherally so. It doesn’t seem to me like they picked Zoe Saldana because she brought something of the original Uhura to the role. It honestly felt like they just needed someone who was black, young and attractive. It’s sadly ironic since the original casting of a Nichols was such a ground-breaker. Now, unfortunately, we find ourselves going the other way. They need to develop her a lot more for future installments.
Worst of all, sadly, was Nimoy. We all know why he was there, and his comments about people “obsessing with the minutiae” are right on the mark, but his acting was just horrible. He just wasn’t believable as Spock, which is weird to say since he created the character. He seemed just too… human the entire time. The scenes with the young Kirk were painful. The small scene at the end with the younger Spock was at least tolerable, if terribly cheesy. Even then, however, he seemed out of character, as if he were playing a character based on Spock. He also might as well have been named “Spock Exposition” instead of “Spock Prime” in the credits. The audience is not so stupid that it needs everything out, Abrams.
Fortunately, we were only forced to endure a little of Nimoy and I believe we may very well be spared him in future installments.
Without diving into spoilers, the scenes and story arc for this film was excellent and it is impossible for this new series to tell the same story that the old Trek did. The small change in Kirk’s past and the battle including the Kelvin at the beginning are insignificant when compared to the mother of all time-line changes. Eric Bana’s Romulan Nero, while maybe just a tad over the top, is nicely menacing, neurotic and unbalanced. His character has a believable motivation and there you almost feel a twinge of pity for the character. His is not a quest to rule the universe, but to avenge a very personal loss. Trek’s best villain, Khan Noonian Singh from Wrath of Khan, was driven to his particular madness because of the loss of his wife… and it appears Abrams was paying attention.
With all of the good that this film has, it is simply not the masterpiece that was Dark Knight. Any comparisons between this film and DK are ignoring some major flaws and the fact that while the writing here was good for Trek, the writing for DK was exceptional by any standard. I really enjoyed this film, but it was simply not as good as Nolan’s magnum opus.
What this film is, though, is an extremely solid “reboot” for a series that badly needed one. It’s also absolutely the best Star Trek film to date. It is definitely worth your hard-earned dollar this summer. The Star Trek series has always thrived on TV but severely disappointed on the big screen. Perhaps now that Trek exists only in syndication we’ll see this turn into something more than just a one-shot prequel. This was a great first outing for this crew and if they are given more time, and just a little more development, I think Trek will rise from the grave.